Free Will and Determinism

Nancy B. Alston

The responsibility for one’s actions is a critical guideline for the establishment of institutions of discipline as well as a yardstick for determining what a fair remedy is after an event. The directive gives direction for the course of action to either reward, praise, or punishes an act or omission. Humankind has over time strived to get insight into common behavior and individual activity for purposes of character training and the study of behavior. Insight into human behavior is priceless.
The understanding regarding patterns in the human personality helps determine moral responsibility, giving support systems a chance to understand and define causation. Causation is a significant component in following one’s role in the lead-up to an act or omission, whether good or bad. On the establishment of causation, there is the implementation of an array of proactive measures as the root of individual behavior is verified. Liability is also easily deciphered after the discovery of the cause of an event. This capability is priceless as most institutions put up for behavioral control, and the general management of human conduct are reliant on civil or criminal liability when defining what fair punishment is, or whether there is a necessity for any (Lebell).
Accountability is a bid element in human relations. All interaction at a personal and professional level gives rise to the principle of accountability, with entities in the general societal frameworks using roles and duties to establish liability and define responsibility based on delegated obligations. Accountability understands which party is responsible for a particular act or omission. This understanding is what drives many human actions, with individuals fulfilling undertakings as part of predefined duties. Any individual occurrence raises the question of accountability, with one being held answerable for the outcome of the said act. It is in trying to understand this moral responsibility that philosophy fronts concepts shed light on the issue (Blackburn Simon).
The two main theories that aim to define moral responsibility for one’s actions are;
1. The doctrine of Free Will
2. The Theory of Determinism
The principle of free will
Since the beginning of time, the idea of establishing whether we all have free has been central to understanding an individual’s personality. On the other hand, a differing argument seeks to prove that external factors beyond our control determine acts or omissions. The free will theory suggests that we, as individuals, choose to do or not to do certain things. In this critical equation, the power to decide on personal conduct is the crucial element. This concept proposes that a deliberate decision is made by oneself, and a collection of the acts based on personal choice define the character. The moral responsibility therefore for the consequences of an act or omission and all manner of blame or praise rests squarely on the individual in person.
According to the theory of free will, ‘ought’ will usually imply ‘can.’ The foundation of this logic is that one should have the ability to comply and obey set rules and regulations, with the reward being praise for good character or blame for liability arising from violation of set moral guidelines. Punitive measures are prescribed depending on the severity of an evil act or omission, all that remains is answering the question if he is responsible or not. This concept matches duty and expectation with accountability to the person, being morally liable for compliance or violation (Farrer Austin).
With the understanding that you ought to obey school rules, any violation of the set code of conduct will have similar consequences. The body dealing with disciplinary issues expects you to stick to what is deemed necessary and reasonable regulations without difficulty. You bear the moral responsibility to uphold the school code. This is a pretty straightforward application. On admission, a student assumes the duty to remain compliant and observe the institution’s governing rules and policies. Your role becomes to study and engage in school activities, staying within the realm of acceptable behavior at all times.
On punishment, the blame lies squarely on the individual. External factors are not a significant reason to mitigate the severity of the punitive prescriptions for ill conduct. This approach treats all individuals as equals on a level platform, where the institutional platform is fair to all. To many, this is the most significant level of justice. This concept envisions a world where everyone can choose what to do or not do with the proper understanding of all that is expected of them. In the interest of justice, this is the standard approach to fairness and the just rule of law.
The free will theory overlooks some things. First, it pays no consideration to mitigating factors. Failure to sufficiently recognize these additional circumstances can lead to the unjust application of the law. Take the issue of self-defense for instance. If one deems an attack as imminent, uses reasonable force to ensure his safety and unintentionally causing death, the judgment would be for murder. This ruling would overlook a critical factor that the liable party did not intend to kill, and that brings about an absence of men’s rea which determines that it is not murder but manslaughter. Mitigating factors play a significant role in determining fair punishment and allocation of blame.
The second major criticism of this theory is that it fails to recognize the possibility of existence acts that are beyond individual control. In the school example, for instance, one of the primary rules is that an educational facility is a drug-free zone. There are punishments outlined for violation of this provision. Let’s picture a situation where a model student is caught intoxicated. Free will dictates that it was by choice, and punishment is the straightforward remedy. This perspective is however one-sided and lacks objectivity. There are a lot of possible reasons for causation, and addressing all defines a more logical and reasonable approach.
The free will concept seeks to hold all individuals morally responsible for their actions. There is no accommodation or ‘excuses’ for improper conduct. Free will focuses on keeping everyone accountable for their actions, with a uniform application of law and policy. In a general perspective, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. However, it lacks objectivity. A lot of factors contribute to the personal conduct, with elements such as the possibility of self-defense recognized by law in a bid to avail true justice and soothe the harshness of the provisions of law.
The biggest selling for this concept is in two parts, with the first being equality for all parties. The second and critical component is that it cultivates individual responsibility. The assumption of a moral duty to conduct oneself in a certain way is a big incentive to nurture self-discipline. Individuals will, therefore, go the extra mile to avoid scenarios where they will be held liable for ill conduct and work even harder to ensure personal behavior meets the required minimum standards as expected by society and law.
This concept proposes that human conduct, in all situations, is as a result of the causal influence of prior occurrences. This chain of circumstances is unbroken, with a visible link to the end event. Determinism does not deny the existence of personal choice but seeks to suggest that past and present occurrences have a significant influence on the power and individual has over his or her future. This view is known as fatalism. There is a discernible buildup to a result from a series of the connecting factor (Honderich).
The concept of determinism has two main arguments;
Incompatibilism – suggesting that by conventional logic, determinism and free will are two separate and incompatible perspectives. In this interpretation, the two theories are mutually exclusive, with no connection or common ground. This perspective realizes the concept of determinism as the only reality, making free will non-existent and therefore an illusion – commonly referred to as hard determinism. The proposition is that the two cannot exist together, and therefore, if free will is indeed valid, then determinism is not. This consistent theoretical separation is pessimistic incompatibilism (Peterborough and Ontario).
Incompatibilism suggests that we cannot have both determinism and free will existing together, and that proof of the reality of one conclusively negates the possibility of the existence of the second. There is only space for the acceptance of one concept.
Compatibilism – this interpretation adds weight the belief that both free will and determinism are compatible. The existence of both is not only possible but that the two concepts don’t work to negate the effectiveness or reality of each other. The belief in both is permitted, and in so doing, one will not be logically inconsistent. Free will, for instance, is not the ability to make a personal choice independent of any prior cause. In this scenario, it is the agent who faces no coercion when making a particular decision. It is an accommodative and objective approach, finding compatibility and common ground for the existence and application of logic in both theories. This merging of perspectives shared by the two arguments is soft determinism (Kapitan Tomis).
The most straightforward case to elaborate this concept is the environment one is raised in for instance, and the effect that may have on an individual’s conduct during a later stage of life. Let’s use an example. Many incarcerated youths in correctional facilities come from tough neighborhoods. Living in such areas is never easy. The presence of drugs, guns, and all manner of risky behavior leaves the parties from such places more susceptible to violations of law. Many factors should come into play when handling a person from such a home. The environment has been proven to have a profound impact on personal conduct and perception towards authority and the rule of law. Varying setups will determine how interpersonal and intrapersonal relations are perceived and managed.
Many times, it is a question of true justice competing with mitigating factors to find fair redress to such situations. It is common knowledge that one should not break the law. What if there is coercion or a tangible threat that causes imminent danger? What if the circumstances leading to an offense would be more of a cry for help than the manifestation of an errant personality?
Consider the case of a lady caught shoplifting. The offense will in many situations attract punishment. But what if the security office at the store takes a few moments with the lady and discovers that she had no money to feed her little kid and she’s had nowhere to go for help? She’s still liable for the offense, but determinism seeks out the cause and offers a platform for remedy. The shoplifter can be let off with a warning and given a job at the store as a cleaner. That’s more reasonable for many.
It is easy to fail in assigning individual or personal responsibility for the commission or omission of an act when adopting the pessimistic incompatibilism, with the assumption that determinism is the only real concept, with free will remaining an illusion. The denial of the outright existence of free will is unrealistic at best. This view remains skewed as the power to choose is inherent, and every individual finds themselves with a decision to make on many occasions when offered a chance to pursue different avenues in regards to a single situation. We all get to choose at some point.
Pessimistic incompatibilism also raises the possibility of the existence of free will, with determinism becoming fiction in such a scenario. Any time free will is adopted singlehandedly; there is a real imbalance in the prescription of punitive measures as objectivity remains absent. All details regarding the situation gain perception in a single dimension manner, with the application of law almost sure to be unjust in specific scenarios where the bigger picture remains unexamined. We tend to seek verification of only two aspects of a situation; an unwanted result, and identification of the morally or legally liable party. All surrounding factors will, therefore, go unexamined, likely to lead to an unfair judgment of the party deemed guilty.
Determinism is a concept that seeks to connect events and causation. With the proper understanding of that continuous chain of events leading to the final result, the idea is that the knowledge helps to understand how to determine moral responsibility objectively. This approach is sound in many ways, but it tends to focus quite a bit on the influencers rather than the role of the agent in the result. To many, it may bring the perception as a search for excuses in a bid to exonerate one from straightforward moral responsibility,
The most significant advantage of this theory is in establishing equitable remedy and putting in place proactive measures to avoid future recurrence of unwanted conduct. All ideas of understanding, rehabilitation and relating to one’s environment when deciding how to handle blame or the occurrence of an event have their foundations on determinism. It has paved the way for the recognition of mitigating factors when seeking redress in legal matters, preventing the passing of overly harsh rulings for issues requiring reasonable consideration.

Many theories have attempted to give insight into human behavior. Quite often, varying concepts are tabled, with each addressing a unique aspect of human conduct, or providing a varying angle of view on an existing idea on the subject. It is impossible to have a single theory that offers comprehensive, all-inclusive insight into human behavior. It takes an amalgamation of ideas and perspectives to paint a real picture. On a realistic level, human behavior is a complicated subject.
Free will is a realistic concept, highlighting the ability to make choices regarding what we do as individuals. Many times, moral responsibility finds a basis in this theory. We choose to do either good or bad things. On a right platform, liability operates on the assumption that you know the provisions of law, and if you commit an offense, it is by choice. However, with the consideration that there are mitigating factors such as insanity, fairness is ensured, and the system finds some balance.
Determinism is what augments the concept of free will. It should be used the hand in hand where necessary. Pessimistic incompatibilism alienates the two ideas from each other, suggesting that determinism and the concept of free will cannot exist concurrently. The interpretation proposes for the singular existence of one, with the presence of the other remaining an illusion.
In our example, a clinically insane person cannot be reasonably held liable for acts that a reasonable, sane person would avoid. Assignment of moral responsibility should only be with the verification of all surrounding aspects of the final event. The agent, in this case, would be fairly judged and a just sentence passed. A delicate balance should remain constant in the application of all concepts, with free will being the chief perspective of assessing moral responsibility in the absence of outside influences on the agent. Determinism is critical for application when the effect of external forces determine the course of action taken by an individual.

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